Gastrointestinal Problems

Gastrointestinal problems get in the way of enjoying life, often at an inconvenient time.
Your stomach produces acid to help with the digestion of proteins. The lining of the stomach is normally protected from damage from acid, but sometimes this protection fails, causing a peptic ulcer. Peptic ulcer symptoms include:
  • burning stomach pain
  • weight loss
  • bloating
  • burping
  • poor appetite
  • vomiting
  • sick to your stomach  
The main causes of an ulcer is infection with bacteria Helicobacter pylori, or long-term use of certain pain killers such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Ulcers usually get worse if not treated, so if you think you have one, you should see your doctor right away.
Heartburn is a burning type pain in the lower part of the mid-chest, behind the breast bone and in the mid abdomen.
When stomach acid splashes up into the esophagus (the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach), it is called acid reflux, which causes heartburn. This problem is usually solved with over-the-counter antacids, but if it is chronic, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you have heartburn often and have trouble treating it, you should see your doctor. Untreated GERD can lead to worse conditions, such as cancer.
Chronic heartburn is fairly common in pregnant women, due to the internal pressure on the stomach from the fetus. In this case, heartburn usually disappears after delivery.
  • The cause and cure for IBS is not known. Generally it describes a collection of any or all the following chronic irritable bowel syndrome symptoms:
  • cramping
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea or constipation, bloating or gas  
For women, these symptoms may be worse during a menstrual period. IBS does not lead to a worse disease, and often symptoms can be managed through:
  • dietary changes, including a healthy diet and small meals
  • medication
  • behavioral therapy to reduce stress  
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that runs in families, with symptoms brought on by eating gluten (a substance in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley). When you eat foods with gluten, your immune system reacts and damages your own cells in your small intestine. This in turn makes it difficult for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs. This can cause other problems such as anemia or osteoporosis. Sometimes no symptoms are obvious, and here are some celiac disease symptoms:
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain
  • fatigue, irritability and/or depression
  • weight loss
  • a skin rash  
If your doctor finds you have celiac disease, then you’ll be on a celiac diet, which is gluten-free. 
If you have diverticulosis, it means your large intestine (colon) has developed diverticula, small pouches that bulge out of the large intestine. It is a common condition in older people. When the pouches become inflamed, it is called diverticulitis, which is much less common.
Usually there are no symptoms with diveritculosis, but sometimes it can cause abdominal cramps, bloating, and constipation.
Abdominal pain is much more common with diverticulitis, and usually comes on much more suddenly. You may especially notice that the lower left side of your abdomen is tender. With diverticulitis you may also have:
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fever and chills
  • change in your bowel habits  
Diverticulitis should be treated because it can lead to worse problems such as infection, tears or blockages in the colon.
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are probably caused by a low-fiber diet, because it is a newer condition associated with the introduction of processed foods in the American diet. The best prevention is a high-fiber diet (which is also advised for lowering cholesterol and the risk of heart disease). It is commonly believed that avoiding seeds in the diet prevents diverticulitis symptoms, but there is no scientific evidence for this. People react differently to different foods, and some find it helpful to keep a food diary to figure out what brings on symptoms.
The most dangerous side effect of diarrhea can be dehydration. Be sure to drink extra fluids to replace those lost. If diarrhea lasts for more than three days or there are other symptoms like a fever over 102°F or blood in the stool.
Everyone’s bowel habits are different, so time is not the only indicator. The difficulty of passing a stool is primarily because the stool stays in the large intestine too long, removing too much water. This makes the stool hard and dry.
Constipation remedies include:
  • Eating more fiber
  • Drinking plenty of water and other liquids
  • Exercise
  • Going to the restroom when there is an urge for a bowel movement
  • Use laxatives only when a doctor says to
  • Some medicines can cause constipation – check with your doctor
  • Follow any special treatments recommended by your doctor  
Fecal incontinence is much more common in women than in men, because it is most often caused by injury due to childbirth, which can damage nerves or muscles associated with the rectum (the last section of the large intestine where feces leaves the body). Sometimes the problem is short-term, and it improves soon after childbirth, but in other cases, loss of control gets worse with age. You may leak gas, liquid, and/or solid stool, and you may have problems all the time or only once in awhile. You might find it embarrassing, but your doctor may be able to help you. You should talk to your doctor if you have:
  • urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • stool spotting in underwear
  • chronic constipation or diarrhea  
Several tests are used to find out exactly what the problem is, and various treatments are available including lifestyle changes, exercises, and surgery.
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